15 - 21 August 2002
Issue No. 599
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Recommend this page|
Sir-- The watershed issue in the Israel-Palestine conflict, in my view, is that the United Nations (read: the US and UK) imposed the apparent democratic will of the entire world upon the Arab world, by enforcing the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948.
This action was in part an attempt to compensate the Jewish people for the guilt felt by the West for its role in the Holocaust and many other atrocities committed against Jews throughout history.
Even more understandable, however, was the reaction of the Arabs, and particularly the Palestinians who were directly affected: vehement opposition to the very existence of the Israeli state. How could a people be expected to meekly accept being dispossessed of their homeland simply because other nations decree that it shall be so? The West, instead of atoning for its guilt regarding the Jews, has effectively substituted the Palestinians to atone on the West's behalf.
In the process, we have pretended to wash our hands of the issue, leaving Israel and Palestine to solve their problems amongst themselves. At the same time, we arm Israel to the teeth. Robbed of their homeland, stripped of the right to their own military, and with zero political support in the US/UK axis (the only present-day one that counts), should it really be surprising that the Palestinians turn to suicide bombing as their only remaining means of self-defence?
Some interesting dynamics are now emerging. Cornered by forces beyond anyone's control, Israel has become a godless state, emulating some of the scourges of its own past -- such as Nazi Germany -- in the violent tactics it uses to suppress a new generation of victims. In fact, the so-called religious confrontation (Christianity versus Islam, Judaism versus Islam) has become a convenient tool with which Western politicians can mask the territorial nature of the struggle, thereby deflecting attention away from their role in the region's miserable history. A good example of this is the dismissal, by Western politicians and media, of the suicide bombers as mere wild-eyed fanatics. We are not just talking about a few extremists here: with religion as a backdrop, this is a struggle by an entire people for economic, political and cultural survival.
Meanwhile, the US, with the UK desperately -- almost comically -- attached to it like a growth (Tony Blair is often lampooned as George Bush's lapdog, or worse), has become the New Israel, the new chosen people of God, professing to be Christian, but spouting little beyond Old Testament, ignorant, xenophobic, vengeful, and ultimately myopic fundamentalism.
Sir-- Americans know full well that the moment Arabs gain the upper hand when it comes to Israel, they would not hesitate in killing every man, woman, and child within Israel.
That was the intention during the Six-Day War, and that is why America backs Israel so fervently.
Sir-- Thank you for printing the splendid 'Punishment by detail' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 8- 14 August) by Edward Said. I can't think of any writer who more concisely delineates the pathology of the current Israeli government and society, or the invisibility of the Palestinians to the world.
His writings have done much -- in addition to the courageous actions of the Palestinians themselves -- to bring Palestine and its people out from behind the mists to stand where they can be seen by the world.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Needed more than ever
Sir-- Edward Said's recent op-ed 'Punishment by detail' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 8-14 August) is once again a wonderful piece. Dr Said represents all Palestinians with his wonderful prose and intellect.
I grieve over his current health problems and pray for his quick recovery. His writing and words of advice are now needed more than ever.
Sir-- As a person who had the honour and privilege to be born and bred in wonderful Alexandria of Egypt of Lebanese parents, I am of course quite familiar with the high standard of your esteemed newspaper. I was in Egypt during the large inflow of Palestinian refugees into Alexandria, and in fact attended College Saint Marc with many of them.
Maybe it is the distance of being in Australia, but I feel rather disappointed in Egypt's role in raising the moral issues of Israel's occupation and aggression. Because of the high respect credited to the leaders of Egypt, I would have thought that they would play a greater role in influencing world wide opinion regarding the justice of the Palestinian cause, and like Mandela persevere to promote human rights and justice.
Sir-- George Bush Sr, it will be recalled, was a bit squeamish about leveling Iraq's capital, but his son, who has emerged as a big believer in "regime change," will stop at nothing in his drive to win foreign victories that distract from his startling domestic failures.
If nothing else, a nightly CNN fireworks display will take our minds off pervasive corporate corruption and the Incredible Shrinking Stock Market.
Sir-- 'No more heroes' by Azmi Bishara (Al- Ahram Weekly, 1-7 August) was a powerful lesson in Arab history. This column is an example of the sort of honest self-reflection that will help the Middle East to shed the mistakes of the past and move into the future.
In the West, intellectuals seem endlessly engaged in similarly energetic cultural and political self-criticism. In the last 200 years, these critics have tackled slavery, the oppression of women, racism, fanatical nationalism and religious bigotry. To be sure, the critics sometimes overstate the scope of the problems, but at least the problems are dealt with. As a result, liberal Western societies have moved from strength to strength, and democracy has been perpetually extended to new segments of society.
Arab intellectuals too often make the mistake of employing the opposite tactic: turning a blind eye or offering weak excuses for the problems which exist in their own societies, while seeking cold comfort in imagining that things in the West are exactly as bad as the most severe critics charge. Stagnation is the predictable result.
Thankfully, Bishara avoids such mistakes. If more intellectuals become brave enough to speak such uncomfortable truths, and more politicians become skilled enough to so delicately walk the line between working with the system and working to change the system, the Arab world's future may yet be much brighter than its past.
Rancho Santa Margarita, California
Sir-- I read Al-Ahram Weekly on-line every week in my Montreal office and find your opinions and your strong stance highly commendable.
In this country, where all you hear and read in the media is biased, it is always encouraging to know that not all voices in our part of the world have fell silent. I just wanted to take this opportunity to express my full encouragement and support.
Sir-- I very much appreciate being able to read Hassan Nafaa's 'Democratic reductionism' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 1-7 August) which was very well written. I am grateful to paperboy.com for providing the links to the outside world because it is hard to get outside opinions these days in the US.
We need more of this kind of writing in the US, since most of our media is so slanted and pro-government, and the truth is so very elusive. You have to dig very deep to find it.
Thanks for your opinion Mr Nafaa, it was very fair; and I agree with you, as I am sure any informed American would too, given the tools and ability to find this information.
Galal Amin e-access
Sir-- Galal Amin writes in 'Music to Western ears' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 1-7 August): "how can mental growth, cultural welfare, and political freedom be advanced through the ownership of a computer or access to the Internet? How would a person's ownership of a computer get him to be more involved in public matters or entice him to form an independent political opinion?"
It is because I am lucky enough to have access to a computer, that I was able to read Professor Amin's excellent article.
Dark and beautiful
Sir-- I have just read your piece 'A question of colour' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 8-14 August) on the blue-eye, blond hair wannabes. Don't feel too bad, it happens world wide. It seems that here in the United States, there are a lot of the "lighter ones" who would love to be the "dark ones" -- me included.
Egyptians are a beautiful people and should be proud of their looks -- from the days of the Pharaohs until today.
So stay dark and stay beautiful.
Sir-- The article 'A question of colour' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 8-14 August) is timely and true. Being African American and a past visitor of Egypt, I too found that I am treated better in Egypt than in the United States. I love Egypt for many reasons and this one is first and foremost.
I have experienced the insidious, detestable institution of racism first hand, and I am saddened that the people I think are some of the most beautiful (inward and outward) people on the planet, are trying to "whiten up" because they have bought into the "blond, blue-eyed" fallacy. Please let Egyptians know they must not go backwards but keep moving onward and upward.
African Americans had no choice but to fight this horrible institution of racism, Egyptians have a choice not to get in the battle. Love comes from within not outward.
Sir-- Anyone reading 'Back on track' (Al- Ahram Weekly, 8 - 14 August) would easily get the impression that the foreign currency situation in Egypt is 'improving'. I'd just like to point out that it is virtually impossible to buy dollars from any bank or exchange office in Cairo. And the same is true for sterling and euros. The money situation is and remains dreadfully dismal.
I'd love to know those 90 per cent who buy dollars at the bank rate! What special privileges do they hold? They are certainly not ordinary people walking into an exchange office with a wad of Egyptian pound notes in the hope of finding hard currency. They almost always come out empty-handed.
Sir-- It has become fashionable these days for many of Egypt's columnists to refer to Hamid Karzai as an American-appointed puppet. Yet this is a grave misconception based on ignorance of the situation in Afghanistan. The true heroes of Afghanistan were men like Ahmed Shah Masoud and his fellow freedom fighters who drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
General Masoud, the legendary commander of the Northern Alliance, was murdered by two hit-men sent by Osama Bin Laden as they posed as journalists to interview him two days before the events of 11 September. Haji Abdul-Haq was another veteran Mujahideen commander executed by the Taliban when he was caught rallying support for the coalition against them. The latest to join them was the vice president of Afghanistan and brother of Abdul-Haq, who was assassinated outside the presidential headquarters last July.
The Taliban, on the other hand, are extremists who terrorised the Afghani people, set out to destroy the rich Afghan culture and its symbols, and effectively handed over power of the country to a group of non-Afghan foreign nationals, who took it upon themselves to wreak more havoc on the world and on their kind, Afghan hosts.
The national heroes in the eyes of the Afghani people themselves -- those of the legendary stature of Masoud and Abdul-Haq to the Afghans -- are systematically being assassinated by the group composed of non-Afghan foreign terrorists. Why is Bin Laden assassinating these respected native Afghan leaders? In his imagination they are the only ones who challenge his claim to power in Afghanistan.
Knowing this, is it fair to make a comparison between Afghan national heroes and a gang of foreign terrorists regarding who holds the legitimate right to power in this country? Must these columnists object to the removal of even the devil himself, just because it was the US who had helped remove him?
In any case, Mr Karzai, who is the respected son of yet another Pashtun leader assassinated by Bin Laden, is now a democratically elected president who enjoys the backing of the vast majority of the Afghani people, their tribal elders and above all their former King Ahmed Zahir Shah.
Legitimate leaders, after all, are those who are chosen by their own people to lead, and not those who are favoured by foreign guests whose illegitimate usurpation of power in their host country had taken its due course to failure.
It would be more noble for some to support the Afghani people's aspirations for a better and more prosperous future, instead of trying to hold them back for their own selfish reasons.
Sir-- I still wonder how much longer this struggle between the government and the largest opposition group will continue. The losers are the people of Egypt. The reporter in 'Brotherhood wings clipped' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 1-7 July) did not state clearly whether he is supporting democracy or dictatorship. Why isn't a group represented by 17 members in the parliament not allowed to form a political party, while we allow people who have no representatives in parliament to form political parties? If they are banned by law, we can still reverse this law. As far as I know it is not the law of God.
I hope there will be a dialogue between the National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood group to try to end this painful fight, and work towards freedom for all Egyptian citizens so they have the right to elect their parliament members and form a legal government.
A Salam Hassan
Sir-- I am a Black African in America. I am the descendant of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I have just finished visiting your country where I found the people to be very courteous and the accommodations to be excellent.
I agree with your assertions on Sharon and the occupying forces in Palestine. If Sharon was a resident of the USA he would be labeled as a felon. How can the Palestinians be considered terrorists when they are fighting to remove invaders from their land by any means necessary?
I wish your articles would mention the indigenous peoples of that land. The Caananites who are being mistreated by both sides. They are descended from the present Nubians who live in Egypt today. I visited their villages and they were very hospitable as were other Egyptians.
I do not support the USA's continued monetary support for Israel, given its historical record and behaviour in others areas of Africa. I just would like to see more details on the forgotten victims. And have Israel exposed to the public.
St Louis, Missouri
Crying in the wilderness
Sir-- When I look at the frightening options for a war against Iraq (even the suggestions to nuke Baghdad), I become truly disappointed at the lack of support Arabs in general are showing to their Iraqi neighbours. It's clear that the main objective is not to bring democracy to the oppressed Iraqis (a noble goal indeed), but to install a pro- Western version of Saddam.
The real endgame is this: a despotic puppet/ former war criminal ruling a country with vast oil fields, and one who will spend all the profits on American military goods instead of his own people. Of course this isn't rare in the Middle East. Though what is shocking is that for years a genocide has been raging in Iraq because of sanctions (just ask Dennis Hallyday and Hans Von Sponeck), and the Iraqi people have been relentlessly bombed in the North and South, as well as Baghdad occasionally, with little sympathy from fellow Arabs.
Why is it that the premier group opposing the Iraq policy, Voices in the Wilderness, is based in the West and not in the Middle East? And what about all these Arab leaders who pretend to object to a war against Iraq, but privately build the necessary bases in their countries?
At least we now know Arab unity is nothing more than a cruel joke -- one at the expense of Palestinian, Lebanese and Iraqi civilians.
Marching in step
Sir-- I am deeply concerned and immensely frustrated at the formidable ordeals inflicted upon the Arabs. There seems there is no 'end of the tunnel' for the Palestinians, and the machines of destruction are obliterating them physically, emotionally and intellectually. Soon, most likely, more disgrace will fall upon the region by a massive attack against Iraq in breach of international law, and leaving thousands of causalities in its wake. Those in the region who work for peace are either being disregarded, buffered or given promises which are never realised.
My frustration has reached levels that I never experienced, and is nourished by the fact that the attacks against Iraq will be, to some extent, launched from some of the Arab countries. I do not understand how such things can happen.
I know that many leaders and others in the region are also frustrated, the more so because they are being pressed and disregarded. They wouldn't need to do that, if they trusted and sought the support of their citizens. The absolute majority of Arabs do not want another war and want to resolve the problems of the region through peaceful means. Why not let the people express their feelings en masse; not only that, why not join them? I can see from Damascus to Cairo, the hundreds of thousands marching hand-in-hand with their leaders to stop the "evil-doers".
It is not impossible. I can see President Mubarak marching through the streets of Cairo with the students, the workers, the farmers, the housewives, the poor, the crippled and sick, the educated, indeed with the Egyptian people. Time is pressing.
Letter from the Editor
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